Agricultural Goliath Monsanto says it doesn’t know how an herbicide-resistant strain of wheat it supposedly stopped researching in 2004 made its way onto an Oregon field.
The company tested the genetically modified wheat in 17 states in the U.S., including Oregon, between 1998 and 2004. It claims it destroyed all of the researched material at the program’s end and that it never grew the strain on the farm where it was found last month.
Monsanto said that even if the seed had been left in the ground, it could not have survived longer than two years in the soil. It also said that the variety could not have traveled across the state, since 99 percent of wheat pollen makes it no further than 10 meters from the plant.
That fact suggests the seeds were clandestinely removed by an ambitious farmer.
Since May 29, the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has conducted a multi-state investigation to determine how the GM wheat reached the Oregon farm.
A local farmer discovered it after dousing his field with Monsanto’s “Roundup Ready” pesticide and realizing that some of the wheat plants were resistant to it. He alerted the USDA, which soon determined that the herbicide-resistant wheat crop was the same variety Monsanto tested nearly a decade ago.
The USDA never approved the strain, and environmentalists have expressed deep concern about potential health risks involving the mysterious GM crop. The finding has already had a detrimental impact on US trade: Japanese authorities last week announced that they would suspend imports of US wheat.